Evelyn S. Wahlberg
United Service Organization 786
Before the War
Evelyn Stada was born in 1921, in Racine, Wisconsin. A natural performer, her first professional notice in a local paper was when she was just eight years old. The Racine Journal News noted, “Little Evelyn Stada, in an attractive costume, offer[ed] a Jazzette number proving quite popular…she received several bouquets over the footlights.”
After attending elementary school in North Racine, Wisconsin, Stada graduated from Gesu High School in Milwaukee, where she starred in many local variety shows. Later she joined a female tap troupe that toured Wisconsin and Illinois. Notably, she became one of the first female artists to sing on the popular Racine radio station, WRJN.
After marrying Eric Verner Wahlberg in the early 1940s, the two formed a singing and dancing duo and tapped their way through the Midwest and parts of Canada. In 1943, they began visiting U.S. Army camps around the United States before leaving for the Philippines in 1945 on a mission with the United Service Organization. President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the USO in 1941 as an organization whose goal was to “lift the morale of the U.S. military and nourish support on the home front.”
The USO hired entertainers like the Wahlbergs to perform for the troops abroad. During World War II, 37 USO entertainers died. The most famous performer to die in the war was legendary big band leader Glenn Miller, whose plane vanished over the English Channel on the way to France while he was serving in the U.S. Army Air Forces.
Shortly before their trip, Wahlberg pulled a muscle in her right leg after a performance. Her husband begged her to remain stateside, but she insisted on making the trip. Her aunt, Eve King, told reporters at the Racine Journal Times that she also asked her niece not to go to the Philippines, but Wahlberg replied that she was going, "if it's the last thing I ever do."
The Wahlbergs performed throughout the Southwest Pacific area with seven other USO performers in a group dubbed, “The Merry Madcaps.” When performing, the Wahlbergs both went by their stage names, “Evelyn and Vern Wahl.” For reasons of both safety and fuel-saving necessity, eleven military personnel from the Phillipines traveled with the entertainers.
The C-47 transport plane carrying the Wahlbergs and their entourage disappeared on February 5, 1946, en route from Iloilo City Airfield, Panay Island, to Cebu Island in the Philippines. After an extensive search, the U.S. Army determined the missing personnel non-recoverable in 1948.
A Remarkable Discovery
In 1964, more than 18 years after the crash, Evelyn’s mother, Mrs. Florence Cantwell, was notified of a remarkable discovery. Cantwell was told by the U.S. Army that students on a mountain climbing excursion in 1961 had found the wreckage and human remains of a C-47 transport plane on Mount Canalaon on Negros Island, which lies between the Panay and Cebu Islands.
According to an article in the Racine Journal Times, the U.S. Army initially declared that despite “extensive examinations…individual identification was impossible.” They also noted that while no “definite information” was available concerning what had caused the plane to disappear, they believed the aircraft was lost because of “inclement weather.”
The human remains found by the hikers, as well as a U.S. Army identification card for Evelyn, were sent to the U.S. Army Mortuary in Tokyo and subjected to extensive examination by an accredited anthropologist and other identification specialists. Although they were sure some of the remains were Evelyn’s, it was impossible to separate the remains individually.
They were sent to Manila American Cemetery and buried together in a group grave. The Manila site was selected, a U.S. Army telegram noted, because the majority of the remains recovered were those of former members of the Philippine Army who were onboard. Evelyn was buried alongside her husband, Eric V. Wahlberg, fellow USO performers Beatrice and William Walsh, Captain John M. Wiedman and Lieutenant Francisco Yusi of the Philippine Army.
“Army to Bury Victims of 1946 Plane Crash.” Racine Journal Times, May 22, 1964.
American Battle Monuments Commission. Manila American Cemetery. Accessed April 13, 2017. https://www.abmc.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Manila_Booklet.pdf.
“Evelyn Wahlberg.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed April 1, 2017. https://www.abmc.gov/node/558292#.WO-Kj4grLIU.
“Evelyn Stada Birth Announcement.” Racine Journal-News, March 1921.
“History of the USO.” United Service Organization. Last updated 2017. Accessed May 1, 2017 https://www.uso.org/about.
Missing Air Crew Report; Office of the Quartermaster General, Memorial Division, Identification Branch, 1942-1947, MACR 15029; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
“Racine Girl on Board Plane Reported Lost in Philippines.” Racine Journal Times, February 16, 1946.
Records of Camp Shows, Inc.; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Special Service Division 1941-1957, Record Group 407 (Box 1); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Records of Camp Shows, Inc.; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Special Service Division 1941-1957, Record Group 407 (Box 2); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Records of Camp Shows, Inc.; Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Special Service Division 1941-1957, Record Group 407 (Box 7); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
“USO Show Members Missing on Philippines Flight.” Belvidere Daily Republican, February 16, 1946.